John 8:31-36—Liberty and Freedom for All
One of the great quotes in the history of the United States came from Patrick Henry at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death”. Our forefathers felt they had the right to be free from the tyrannical rule of England, and they had a right to practice the religion of their choice, but I think first and foremost they were seeking economic freedom. They were tired of paying heavy taxes, and living as a colony with the purpose of enriching the aristocrats of England. Commenting about this, FDR said that “Freedom begins with economic security and independence”, and all Americans have the right to pursue that freedom. The famous line from our DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE is that we are all endowed by God with certain rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Notice that the founding fathers always included that all our rights, freedoms, and happiness were given by God, and we live under God’s authority. Our pledge of allegiance that we all learned in grade school says we pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. It seems that most people today have forgotten the “under God” part, but that is where it all begins. The irony is that the authors of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution were not concerned with God meddling in the government, in fact they implanted Him there. They took God’s presence and sovereignty for granted. Their concern was that the government would meddle or try to control religion. They had religious oppression in Europe and wanted to end that and be free to worship as each chose. They wanted “one nation under God”.
What is Freedom Anyway ?
First, I consulted the many humanist secular authors and speakers. Rousseau said that “Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains”, meaning that we need to be free but all people are restricted from being free. Henry David Thoreau said, “All good things are wild and free”, now that’s an idealistic concept. Totalitarians like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin said things like, “While the state exists there can be no freedom, and when there is freedom there will be no state.” I think the majority opinion is expressed well by Bertrand Russell, “Freedom is the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires”. I lived through the 1960s when the cry of freedom was, “free love”, free drugs”, Etc.—really they wanted free everything, with literally no one to tell them what to do. I ask those of us today who survived it, “How did that work out?” Free love resulted in disastrous relationships and sexually transmitted disease. Free drugs enslave a culture of addicts zonked out and even more troubled than before. Nevertheless, the majority of people seem to still buy in to freedom as “the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires”. They want to do what they want to do in spite of the fact that God knows those humanistic corrupt desires may be self destructive. Get real, that kind of freedom only exists in people’s imagination. Even Bob Dylan knew this when he sang, “You gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.” Even Bob Dylan knew that human beings are not sovereign over their own lives, and in reality we have very little control over our eternal destiny. The truth is that there is no freedom without being “Under God”.
Since God created us and gave us our freedom to choose to live under Him or to go our own way, what is true freedom in God’s view expressed in His Word? In John 8:31-36, Jesus was arguing with the Pharisees about who He is and what authority Jesus has. Some of the religious leaders actually believed in Jesus as the Messiah sent by God, so Jesus said to them “If you abide in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus was telling all these descendants of Abraham that in a spiritual sense from God’s perspective, they were all enslaved unless and until they abide in the Word of God about Jesus. That Word that we call “the Gospel” is the truth, and only that gospel can set you free from sin and death. Naturally those proud religious leaders objected and revealed that they had no understanding of the gospel, saying “we have never been enslaved”. Jesus was talking spiritually about salvation and forgiveness of sin, but they were focused on the human institution of slavery. Therefore Jesus further explained by saying “Truly, truly, I say to you everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin”. Jesus knew that even though they were religious, they were controlled by their passions for money, power, prestige, sex, popularity, and all the other desires that we all have. Jesus came into the world for the purpose of dying for their sins to set them free from their lustful desires. Jesus closed out that discussion by giving them a promise, “If therefore the Son (of God) shall make you free, you shall be free indeed”. Jesus’ view of freedom means that through His atoning work on the cross we can be free of guilt, and free of sin’s grip on our bodies, and ultimately free of death.
The worldly humanistic view of freedom is the right to do whatever you want and be whoever you want to be. This view assumes that we have control of our lives, but history proves how little control we have. All the clichés like “the best laid plans of mice and men” or “hindsight is twenty-twenty” come from proven experience. The other untruth coming from the world’s wrong view of freedom is that there is no absolute truth and no absolute moral values. People want to make up the rules as they go, and then through rationalization justify their immoral lifestyle. But we who believe in the truth taught by Christ must ask the question, IS FREEDOM THE RIGHT TO DO WHAT YOU WANT, OR IS IT THE RIGHT TO DO WHAT YOU OUGHT ? Christ has set us free to do what we ought. When we stay “under God” as the Pledge of Allegiance says, God will stay over us. Our nation was founded “under God”, and I believe God has blessed America. Therefore, let’s celebrate the fourth of July as more than the birth of our nation. Let’s also celebrate that Christ has set us free unto eternal life.